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Introduction

Buried in the top of a closet in the Duvall house are two shoeboxes filled with “mushies.” For two years before Scott and Judy were married, they lived three hundred miles apart and survived by making frequent phone calls, taking occasional trips, and writing lots of letters. (This was back in the day before the invention of email or cell phones or Skype.) The two shoeboxes are packed with love letters. Some are short, others long; some informative, others playful; some serious, others silly; but all are valuable pieces of communication between two people who loved (and continue to love) each other very much.

Letters (in all their modern technological forms) play an important role in all of our lives. How do you feel when you receive a personal note? Do you remember the letter informing you of your acceptance into a particular school? What about the long letter of advice from a parent or trusted friend? Have you ever received a “Dear John” letter or a DTR (“define-the-relationship”) letter? Have you ever written one? Then there are business letters, legal letters, medical letters, personal letters, and so on. Whether by email, on official letterhead, on personal stationery, or on the back of a napkin, we write notes and letters to communicate what we think and how we feel.

Of course, letters predate the Duvall romance. They were used widely in the ancient world and figure prominently in our New Testament. Twenty-one of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are letters (about 35 percent of the entire New Testament).[1] Most evangelical scholars agree that Paul, James, Peter, John, Jude, and the author of Hebrews (who chose to write anonymously) are responsible for those twenty-one letters.

Scholars have traditionally made a distinction between the Pauline letters and the general or catholic (universal) letters. Each of Paul’s thirteen letters takes its name from the individual (e.g., Timothy) or the group (e.g., “to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi&rdqou;) to whom the letter is addressed. The general letters take their names not from the addressees (with Hebrews being the exception), but from their authors (e.g., James, John). While this distinction makes some sense, perhaps it is best to put them all in a basket labeled “New Testament letters” and evaluate them individually.

Paul ? James Peter John Jude
Romans Hebrews James 1 Peter 1 John Jude
1 Corinthians 2 Peter 2 John
2 Corinthians 3 John
Galatians
Ephesians
Philippians
Colossians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy
Titus
Philemon

We will begin this course by looking inside the world of New Testament letters. What are some important characteristics of letters? What form do the letters take? Then we will explore how we should interpret the New Testament letters. The course concludes with an Interpretive Journey through a passage in a New Testament letter.


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